Full disclaimer: Blank Noise founder Jasmeen Patheja is a friend of mine, so I’m not even going to pretend not to be biased in the organization’s favor. But the truth is that we met a year ago over coffee at a Barista in Kolkata because I wanted to find out more about what the group was doing to speak out against the physical and verbal harassment of women on the streets of India. I’d been following the blog for a while and read about the One Night Stand protest in Bangalore, a direct action that involved a group of women taking over a railing that lined the footpath in a busy market area where men traditionally stood to ogle and fondle passing women. Crowded urban shopping areas are prime real estate for eve teasers, as they present an opportunity for men to “accidentally” bump into, rub against, or grab women’s bodies as they pass. Tired of having to constantly be on guard, the women (and men) of Blank Noise demand their safe access to public space.
In recent months, Blank Noise has launched several consciousness raising campaigns that center women’s experience on the street. One campaign is entitled “I Never Asked For It” and includes women taking photos of the clothing they were wearing while eve teased to put to rest the idea that only certain types of “promiscuously dressed” women are harassed. Alongside the photographs are the words “I Never Asked For It” in several Indian languages, including Bengali (ami kokhunoyi chai na), Malayalam (njaan aavashyapettilla), and Tamil (naan ketkamataen), as well as other languages around the world like French and Dutch. Blank Noise also asked for contributions of common sayings that excuse men’s lecherous behaviors and imply that women do ask for it. The sayings are then coupled with visual descriptions. For example, agar mittha samne hai toh makhi toh zaroor aasi is Punjabi for “if there’s something sweet , then it is obvious that the flies will be there too,” which implies that attractive women invite men’s stares and comments.
Blank Noise volunteers in chapters from Kolkata to Chennai to Mumbai meet to discuss how they will go about talking to men about how eve teasing effects women. Some have taken a chart that lists several different behaviors (e.g., staring, spitting on, whistling) and asked men to put their thumbprint in the box of the behaviors they believe are eve teasing in order to start a dialogue with them. Others prefer to converse on the blog by sending in a picture of the place they were harassed with the story of what happened during the incident, a project the organization calls “Action Heroes.”
The activities I’ve named only begin to scratch the surface of Blank Noise Project, and Jasmeen’s vision for the group is vast and exciting. Check out their recent actions on their website and befriend them on Facebook to receive event announcements and updates.